Many of the children we see in our clinic grow up with more than one language.
Over the years we have become experts in diagnosing whether these children have
a language-learning disorder or whether they are merely showing the normal signs
of acquiring a second language.
As a very general rule: children with a genuine speech and language delay or disorder usually don't develop their mother tongue at the same speed as their monolingual peers.
When children are first exposed to a second language, they often focus on listening and comprehension. They are very quiet, speaking little as they focus on understanding the new language. The younger the child, the longer the silent period tends to last. Older children may remain in the silent period for a few weeks or months, whereas preschoolers may be relatively silent for a year or more.
Transfer from the first Language to English
The child may make an English error due to the direct influence of the first language. E.g., in Spanish, "esta casa es mas grande" means "this house is bigger." However, a literal translation would be "this house is more bigger." A Spanish-speaking child saying this would be making a transfer from Spanish to English.
The child may change languages over phrases or sentences, e.g., a French speaker might say, "That’s a petite [small] butterfly”."
Benefits of Bilingualism
Many research studies cite the cognitive-linguistic benefits of being a fluent bilingual speaker. Experts have found that children who are fluent bilinguals actually outperform monolingual speakers on tests of metalinguistic skill.
Ideally, children should learn English while their first language and culture are maintained and reinforced. Experts into
multilingual language acquisition strongly recommend that parents speak with their child in their mother tongue, even if this initially delays their language development.
One person – one language
It is easiest for children if the languages are strictly separated (situation, place, person). The parents should ideally not switch between languages!
Most researchers agree that a child who is exposed simultaneously to two languages at an early age will find it easier to learn both languages.